Download Transformers V10
"Do you mean the music or the sound?"
"Both!" she shot back.
I hit the Mute button on the T+A V10's remote control, got up from my chair, and walked to her door. "It's The Shins' second LP, Chutes Too Narrow [Sub Pop SP625]. Great pop/rock tunes, don'tcha think? Kinda like Todd Rundgren's best early stuff, only better. The amplifier's the new T+A"
Before I could utter another syllable, out it came—from her: "Tits and ass!"
When T+A was formed 25 years ago, in Germany, I'm sure that its founders had no idea that their innocent initials had a second, salacious meaning in America.
When I first attended the High End Show in Frankfurt in the late 1990s, I was amazed and impressed by Germany's indigenous audio industry—so many relatively large and well-established companies I'd never heard of, and that were not imported to the US. T+A had one of the larger exhibits at the show, crammed with everything from sophisticated floorstanding loudspeakers (including one with an electrostatic tweeter powered by a built-in vacuum tube) to CD players, preamplifiers, power amplifiers, integrated amplifiers, and even surround-sound processors and "lifestyle" systems.
Now, as T+A celebrates its 25th year in business, the Quartet Marketing Group, headed by former Sumiko Audio principal Stirling Trayle, has begun importing the line—including the V10, a handsome, technologically accomplished tube integrated amp and the first T+A design to be reviewed in the States. The V10 ($8000) is one of three 25th-anniversary two-channel products the company is introducing this year. The others are the similarly styled G10 turntable with integrated phono preamplifier, and a multiformat digital audio player (as yet unnamed). The three products represent T+A's attempt to both return to its roots and show off its technical prowess.
Best of both worlds
If part of T+A's plan was to wow the visual and tactile senses, they've succeeded big time. The V10 strikes me as the kind of industrial design that ends up in a museum. Its combination of compact symmetry, proportions, textures, and materials is exceptional for a piece of audio gear—stunning without being gaudy, dramatic and appealing without calling attention to itself. And it uses tubes.
T+A didn't use tubes in the V10 for novelty's sake. Because part of the anniversary line's mission was to show off the company's technical prowess, T+A sought new ways of implementing the older technology.
Is there anything genuinely new under the audio sun? For the most part, industry cynics say "No," claiming that most new amplifier designs merely rehash well-worn circuits. T+A developed a new circuit for the V10 that it calls the SPPP, for "Single Primary Push-Pull." T+A's surprising claim of 80Wpc RMS with 18Hz-100kHz bandwidth at less than 0.5% harmonic distortion gives you a clue that something interesting might be going on under that blue acrylic top plate (footnote 1).
The V10 uses a pair of Svetlana's new EL509/II power pentode tubes for each channel's output, two EC99 double triodes in the driver-phase-splitter section, and two ECL82 (6BM8) triode-pentodes in the input stage. All these tubes are mounted in the mesh towers on the top of the amplifier. The preamp section uses a pair of long-plate ECC83 (12AX7) tubes, these mounted horizontally inside the chassis.
The tubes are hand-picked for close tolerances, with optimum performance maintained via microprocessor-based monitoring of operating parameters recorded using a "form of dynamic counter." T+A claims that a set of tubes should last between 3000 and 5000 hours. Microprocessor control allows for "soft start" of tube heating and power-supply voltages, plus overload protection, temperature control, and an easy-to-use bias-monitoring system that lets you know when adjustment is needed. All operating information, including remaining tube life, can be accessed via the front panel's LCD display.
In order for the V10 to be approved by UL, instructions on how to adjust a tube's bias are not included in the manual. Nor did the owner's manual tell the owner what to do when a bias adjustment is necessary. I found this mystifying. When I questioned importer Stirling Trayle about this, he told me that bias-adjustment instructions would be made available in the future. During the review period, I received a PDF file outlining the simple procedure. Bias is adjusted via potentiometers accessible from the underside of the chassis, using the LCD screen's bias info graphic. No voltmeter is needed, and the entire operation should take but a few minutes.
The V10's anti-resonance chassis-within-chassis construction features an inner steel cradle that rests on shock absorbers, and an outer shell of aluminum and acrylic. A cooling fan is vented to the chassis bottom; if it ever came on, I didn't hear it.
Another goal of the design team was to make the V10 visually attractive. That they've achieved. The V10 is a gorgeous hunk of kit.
Ins and Outs
Although the layout of the V10's rear panel is clean and relatively spacious, the panel is recessed under the acrylic top plate—I found it difficult to insert cables terminated with spade lugs into the angled plastic channels of the central binding posts. (Banana plugs would make an easier connection.) Between the speaker terminals is an impedance switch that lets you choose between 4 and 8 ohm output transformer taps. The left rear chassis has four pairs of gold-plated RCA jack inputs, with an additional RCA input in the tape loop. Also on the rear panel: a ¼" phono-plug headphone jack, a T+A "Rlink" jack for system control, and an IEC AC jack with On/Off switch.
The front panel includes the LCD screen, a series of control buttons below it, and two knobs: one for volume, the other for turn-on and source selection. In the latter's Off position, some current still flows to certain internal components, but the amp can't be switched on via the remote control. For that, you have to switch to the standby (STBY) position, from which you can select Heat (switches on the tube heaters but not the high voltage), then HV (activates the high voltage and makes the amplifier operational).
The six buttons below the LCD screen are for Tape Monitor, Speakers On/Off, Headphone jack On/Off, Bias (higher idle current for lower harmonic distortion, but lower power—good for low-level listening), Info (displays information about tube life and bias), and Balance.
Tube or not tube
The V10's claimed 80Wpc was more than enough to drive the efficient Wilson Audio Specialties WATT/Puppy 7 speakers to high SPLs without strain or anything approaching audible clipping. Going from Musical Fidelity's solid-state kWs, which put out ca 1800Wpc, meant that the presentation was going to be very different, of course—but it wasn't that different. The biggest immediate difference was one of scale. The V10 provided a warm, intimate presentation—a fireside chat vs arena rock.
I'm not trying to say that, driven by the Musical Fidelity kWs, the WATT/Puppys sounded like stacks of JBL PA monitors. Rather, the width and breadth of the V10's presentation was less expansive but equally well-proportioned, and its tonal balance was warmer and more liquid in the midband, and perhaps slightly more recessed in the lower presence region.
Footnote 1: Even more surprising is that the V10's power supplies are symmetrical, as is familiar from solid-state design, with the output point held at DC ground by feedback. No DC current flows through the transformer, therefore. The V10's output transformers are toroidal types, and there is no negative feedback taken from the transformers' secondary windings.—John Atkinson